Anyone familiar with Big Data and its seemingly limitless applications would expect both candidates in this year’s US presidential election to be utilizing it to the fullest.
However, a recent Wall Street Journal article points out that Donald Trump’s campaign has refused to employ Big Data and that Trump himself considers it to be “overrated.” He is instead relying on his tremendous social media presence to appeal to potential voters.
Trump’s celebrity status prior to the start of this election has helped him draw close to $2 billion of free media attention, more than any other presidential candidate in history. One report shows that he generates a staggering $189 of free media for every $1 he spends. To put this in perspective, the next best candidate at generating free media, Hillary Clinton, only gets around $26 of free media for every dollar spent. No other candidate comes close.
While a great deal of the free media Trump gets is not, in fact, positive media, it still plays a huge role in helping him build his brand. Yet, for all the attention he gets on television and on the web, the prospect of him choosing to not also tap into the wealth of voter information that Big Data can provide is shocking, to say the least.
Big data in elections past
The use of Big Data in Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign enabled him to gather specific information about his voters and target the most persuadable ones with personalized messages. His campaign was among the first to apply analytics of this kind, and they proved to be an extremely useful asset in his victory over John McCain, who did not rely on analytics.
In 2012, Obama continued to build his database and use analytics to get the edge over Mitt Romney, who began to embrace Big Data, but could not compete with the information the Obama campaign had already amassed. When Obama emerged victorious for the second time, using Big Data was beginning to look too advantageous to ignore.
Hillary Clinton will inherit the database Obama built over the course of his two campaigns when she officially becomes the democratic party nominee this week. The information will allow her to continue developing Democratic voter profiles and will help determine which types of messages are the most effective for reaching different demographics.
Smart or Shortsighted?
So, is Trump’s reluctance to use Big Data an admirable strategic move or a boneheaded refusal to get with the times, especially given the success we’ve seen with two Obama campaigns?
It can be argued that, for someone who wants to run America like a business, not using Big Data the way many businesses do to better understand their customers and their decision-making tendencies is awfully short-sighted.
Trump can hope that Hillary’s use of Big Data would alienate potential voters and raise privacy concerns, but it seems unlikely, given that many are increasingly willing to give away their personal information and have already come to terms with the amount of commercial targeted marketing out there.
Campaign strategists may claim that Trump can’t afford to ignore Big Data, but he’s been unexpectedly successful so far without it, so who’s to say? Perhaps his campaign will teach us that Big Data is not the be-all-end-all of these election cycles. It’s also possible that he will crash and burn. Only time will tell if his social media empire is powerful enough to take him all the way.